Sci Fi Essay #3: Place and Space- Scavengers as a Sensory Experience

Scavengers is a short animation, by Joseph Bennett and Charles Huettner, that follows a pair of human explorers as they journey through an unknown planet (Vesta) full of unusual creatures. The title Scavengers– someone who feeds from the discards of something else- seems to allude to the impact they have while moving through a foreign terrain, as outsiders. While their true motivations, outside of trying to establish a Human settlement, are unknown throughout most of the animation, it is clear they are in search of something they don’t have but feel the Vesta can provide them, cutting and taking whatever they feel necessary to assist them in their journey. The animation is very sensory, relying on emotive sounds and captivating visuals in the absence of dialogue to not only guide the scavengers through the unknown terrain, but also, on a more ascended level, guide the viewers through the narrative.

Rob Munday describes Scavengers as a narrative that “unravels as if the directorial duo were playing a game of the exquisite corpse. With each step taking the narrative in a surprising direction…”. This animation structure mirrors the experience of the explorers, as their prior earthbound knowledge does not dictate their situational awareness and comprehension of this environment.  Situated Cognition Theory establishes that knowing is inseparable from doing and that knowledge exits within the social interactions, cultural context, and physicality of an environment. This is closely related to Embodies Cognition, in which Bodenhamer, in Deep Maps and the Spatial Humanities, characterizes as the understanding that “what we know cannot be separated from what our bodies perceive as we move through space.” Embodied Cognition is essential to this narrative, as it centers the body and the body’s relation to space and objectivity as imperative in acquiring and processing knowledge. The chain of reaction events in Scavengers leads the viewer through and to the explorer’s motivations and clues us into their thought process throughout.  The explorer’s cognition is dependent on their sensory experience. Their ability to think, sense, reason, desire, emote, and motivate one another are bound in their interactions with the foreign terrain and creatures within it.

Having explored the Vesta Planet for many weeks- as noted by the tallies at 0:51- we get a sense that the explorers have developed a working knowledge of their surroundings. By establishing patterns, categorizing and classifying this new information the explorers can understand one life form in relation to another. In Inventing the Medium (introduction) Murray emphasizes our subconscious and perpetual pattern recognition as crucial to how we understand the sensory characteristics (how something looks and sounds) and behavioral characteristics (how something acts) of other entities. She states, “We are born with the ability to make meaningful patterns out of experience, and we spend our lives acquiring, refining, elaborating, and reinventing these patterns.” In Scavengers, each scene can be defined by an unknown creature, its physical and behavioral characteristics, and its value to the explorers. In watching the animation, the viewer evolves along with the explorers, establishing patterns through our shared sensory experience. Together we note which ‘squishy’ sounds are safe and ‘sharp’ sounds signal incoming destruction, how scale indicates the explorers’ level of intervention, and the use of light/color to signal alien-like substances and scenarios. Dialogue remains irrelevant to this narrative as an alternate, sensory language tells us all we need to know (and much more) about the Planet Vesta and its native creatures, the explorers’ intentions, and the social dynamic between them.

 

Sources:

Bodenhamer, David J., et al. Deep Maps and Spatial Narratives. Indiana University Press, 2015.

Lindgaard, Karin, and Heico Wesselius. “Once More, with Feeling: Design Thinking and Embodied Cognition.” She Ji: The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation, Elsevier, 8 Dec. 2017, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2405872617300291.

Munday, Rob. “Scavengers by Joseph Bennett & Charles Huettner: Short Film.” Short of the Week, https://www.shortoftheweek.com/2017/01/02/scavengers/.

Murray, Janet Horowitz. Inventing the Medium: Principles of Interaction Design as a Cultural Practice. MIT Press, 2012.